In true perfectionist and procrastinator style, I had decided to start blogging several months before I finally took the leap. The title was the final detail preventing me from going live. I considered so many options, thought about it day and night. I wanted to capture the essence of my life as an Illinois farm girl, a place to explore my present, past and future. At 2 a.m. one week day three years ago, I clattered to the desk and Rural Route 2: The Life & Times of an Illinois Farm Girl was born.
Funny that three years and some months later, I’m finally writing about the Rural Route 2, the road on which my childhood farm rests, the road I explored on foot, horseback and bike, the road that was the gateway to so many life adventures. Although my life, family and house is elsewhere now (yet not too far away), when I guide my car around this familiar curve, I feel home.
With a blog titled Rural Route 2, I get a lot of messages asking about rural routes. Examples: “Where is this? I grew up on RR2 in Wyoming.” “Can you help me find my childhood home? It was on RR2 in Indiana.” “What is a rural route exactly?”
While I can’t help with specifics, the answer to the latter question is a bit easier to explain and upon some investigation, quite interesting.
Rural routes refer to mail delivery routes not specific roads. Thus rural route 2 can be found in any number of states, as can rural route 1 and rural route 3. Back in the day, when everyone knew everyone in rural America and the population was quite small, mail simply needed a family name, a box number, a rural route, town and sometimes, state. Letter carriers knew who was who and who lived where.
Rural mail delivery didn’t truly begin until 1896. As is the case with many of the modern conveniences we enjoy in rural America, a grassroots movement spearheaded by several farm organizations prompted the U.S. Postal Service to expand delivery service to rural areas. Until this time, a farm family would only get their mail when they trekked to town, which for some only happened when supplies were needed or on an occasional Sunday.
Early mailboxes were buckets or egg crates, anything that could hold paper. Clusters of these crude boxes were set in a central location to several farmsteads. When rural mail delivery became the law of the land, roadways saw improvements and eventually many farmsteads would have a mailbox at the end of their drive. These days, though, you can still find a row of mailboxes sitting at a crossroads in more remote areas.
When the 911 system was introduced, first responders needed more than a family name and rural route to locate their destination. House numbers and actual street/road names were introduced giving way to the system most people are familiar with today.
The U.S. Postal Service offers a peak at the history of mail delivery and rural routes on their website. Here are two links I discovered specifically mentioning rural routes:
- Rural Free Delivery
- First Rural Routes by State On this link you can search first by state and then by town to learn when rural routes appeared in your area.
Are you looking for a place known only by a rural route? While it might make sense to call the local post office to inquire about the new address, I’ve learned the better place to contact is the courthouse and or county assessor.
Tell me about your rural routes in the comments below.